Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Modern Art and the Death of a Culture" by H.R. Rookmaaker

Rookmaaker’s book is hugely influential without being well known. Written a few years before Schaeffer’s “How Should We Then Live,” it is acknowledged there as an influence, and one can see how their friendship and his ideas helped shape Schaeffer’s work. However, whereas Schaeffer took a more philosophical and historical tack to illuminate the direction in which culture was headed Rookmaaker is more concerned with the responsibility of the believer towards art, both in response and involvement.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Star Trek The Next Generation (Season 4b)

<--Season 4a Season 5a-->

Episode 14: “Clues” 

This is sort of a pointless episode, at least from the perspective of its own plot. It does explore the human need to know everything—even when that knowledge is dangerous or self-destructive. We cannot resist a mystery. In this case the crew encounters another one of these amazingly powerful, almost godlike aliens that they are always running into, but they have to “undo” the encounter or die. The first time around they do not erase the evidence thoroughly enough. When they finally do, the story didn’t happen as far as anyone outside of the audience, Data and the “gods” are concerned.

Episode 15: “First Contact” 

This episode, even though not perfect nor one of the best of the series, does show what Star Trek (and any good science fiction) does best. It is a good portrayal of the way cultural institutions and traditions sacrifice truth and reality in favor of the status quo. The obvious parallel here is the controversy over Copernicus’ theory and the way that the Catholic Church could not accept that their world view was wrong. Today the grip of Scientism and certain scientific consensuses are a better example.

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Truckin' Shame

“Truck” was invented as a word to offend.
The connection of something so wonderful
and even beautiful
to the most serious of offenses is understandable
but sad.

Interstate commerce is vital to life.
The relationship designed to facilitate that traffic
one of supreme trust
and any casual or even forced intercourse
is bad.

But somewhere English shipped itself.
The corruption is an embarrassment
and a shame
because other tongues, in the business of offense,

Where all culture has become harsh
and the trend is toward vulgarity
overuse of taboo
increased inability
even incapacity to shock
most hold the big guns in reserve.

Not only does English overuse it
as a child trying and failing to be adult
but it has made it an inane filler
that exposes a lack of
and intelligent thought.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

It’s Not About ____ (Philippians 1:12-18)

I don’t have a really good answer to the question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” (Partly because I don’t know a lot of people who are truly, thoroughly good, but also because when that questioned is asked people are looking for something other than the answer.) However, a more important thing to consider is: why do bad things happen to people who are seeking to proclaim and advance the gospel? The answer here is, so that that message can be made known.

Some would say that Paul is saying here that more and more people are being saved. That is not the complete picture. Paul says the gospel is advancing. Whether or not people are accepting the good news, the fact the message itself is spreading—that the effects of the gospel on the world are increasing—that is the advance.

Tied into that truth is the idea that the motives of the people preaching and proclaiming are secondary to the fact that Christ is being proclaimed. We are pretty obsessed these days with people’s motives and their understanding of secondary issues. Some people are prepared to declare a person an unbeliever based on things as crucial as their understanding of how the second coming will occur, how many years ago the creation occurred, or how many angels can dance on the head of a needle.

We need to come to the realization that it is not about us, our style, our mental capacity or renown. And somehow God can still turn the fact that we don’t get that… for good.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

2011 in Film

Publishing a “best of” list of films for any year before the Academy Awards air is a difficult thing to do under normal circumstances. Add to that the fact that all of us non-critics don’t see even a simple majority of the films released (less than 15% in my case) and that living in Europe means most of the consensus bests aren’t even available to see yet, and you have an incredibly unrealistic self-imposed deadline. This is the first year, though, that I feel uncomfortable living with my current choices, as there are enough films I have yet to see that could realistically change the whole list. So, here is a first attempt at 2011, look for a possible second version to come:

(Updated November 2012 and again November 2013)

Top Personal Films of 2011: 

14. "Hugo"
13. "The Adventures of Tin Tin: The Secret of the Unicorn"
12. "Moneyball"
11. "War Horse"
10. "Super 8"

9. "Jane Eyre"
8. "The Adjustment Bureau"
7. "The Muppets"
6. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
5. "Tree of Life"
4. "Midnight in Paris"
3. "The Help"
2. "Rango"
1. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2"

Most Disappointing, (though not necessarily worst made) Let Downs of 2011: 

-5. "Fright Night"
-4. "Cars 2"
-3. "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"
-2. "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"
-1 "Melancholia"

15 Films I have yet to see that could change all of this:

"The Adjustment Bureau"
"The Artist"
"Attack the Block"(seen)
"The Descendants"
"The Ides of March"
"Jane Eyre"(seen, see above)
"Martha Marcy May Marlene" (seen)
"Melancholia" (seen.  see above)
"The Muppets" (seen. see above)
"My Week with Marilyn"
"A Separation"
"The Way Back"
"War Horse" (seen, see above)

Friday, February 24, 2012

"The Decoy Bride"

It is an inconsistency, I’ll admit, but the formulaic nature in the Romantic Comedy bugs me more than in other genre. Perhaps it is because the formula is not played against expectation as often in those stories; maybe it is my gender. Either way, I am harder on those movies than others. That is why I take note when I am roped into watching one and I end up liking it.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Gospel According to Campbell's

“A NonModern Manifesto on Church Planting and Evangelism” (Part 2) (See Part 1 here)

As we look at the fundamental problems in the way we do church, the first thing we need to address is the common understanding of evangelism and what that has done to the Gospel.

I remember well the first time I encountered (and immediately questioned) what my evangelism professor, Dr. Fish, would later call a “canned presentation” of the Gospel. I was in middle school in Temuco, Chile. I had just arrived there and was sort of getting to know people, which was a little hard because my Spanish was still terrible. I met an Australian named Phil, a fellow missionary kid, and we of course quickly became friends. One day we are running around the school and we encountered a man whom, to my memory, was another missionary from Australia. Phil introduced us and the man said little-to-nothing. Instead he held out a small round button and indicated that I should look at it. It read: “God loves.”

“Do you understand?” he asked me.

I nodded. He flipped the button over, and on the other side was a mirror. His face lit up and he waited for me to make the connection. I was way ahead of him. He smiled and, without a word, turned and walked away.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Redemption, Justification… Science Fiction Style

Occasionally, like when I am washing dishes or doing some other routine activity, I like to listen in on the overnight airwaves coming out of the States. Most of the stuff at that hour is produced with the fact that most of America is asleep at that hour, or if they aren’t they are not tuned into the radio. However, one show operates under the assumption that that is when all the fringe thinkers, conspiracy theorists and people off their meds are tuning in: “Coast to Coast AM.” I have discussed the guilty pleasure, comedic value that this show has before.

Lately, though, they have been taping into the Christian fringe. They have had shows with apocalyptic specialists and self-appointed prophetic experts. Some of these guys are even considered Biblically solid by the more main-stream prophecy junkies. (That last category is admittedly still a bit “out there.”) The mind boggling aspect of these guys’ theories is the way that they involve alien invasion and genetically manipulated humans—in general the stuff relegated to science fiction.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Pan Am" Reminds Us: TV Sex is for Lazy Writers

Recently ABC offered the first nine episodes of the drama “Pan Am” for free via iTunes. Maybe it was a last ditch ploy to raise an audience for a failing show. However, rumors and all the evidence indicate that the show had been cancelled prior to the offering, so who knows? In any case, my wife watches so much science fiction and murder mysteries with me I am always on the lookout for a more feminine storyline that I could enjoy with her, and this was free. I started out pleasantly surprised.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Rock Star Rock Hound

when Marty Pitt was seven years old
he uncovered his passion in life
tunneling through the yard to China
with a toy plastic shovel and pike
before he had gotten far at all
he dug up a stone quite pie-rite-y
learned that he could collect such things and
joined the local rock society

in those days some folks would assemble
native samples: mineral and rocks
by digging, scratching through solid earth
and keep them in an old cigar box
Marty thought that while pretty was nice
bigger was still more impressive
his goal was the biggest collection
not just large but truly quite massive

he found that the actual digging
was hard work and a pain in the butt
searching through catalogues to buy stones
costly and he didn’t have the bucks
that was when he discovered concrete
it was everywhere that he went
he needed just hammer and chisel
to have rocks to his heart’s true content

as Marty grew and in size and stature
he invented a way to use casts
to make all his “rocks” quite uniform
and so store his collection quite vast
now he travels far and wide to teach
his ideas and thoughts on collecting
and his satellite aggregations
the peak in assembly erecting

some people favor the old, hard way
that result in collections quite small
but petrology’s future tends more
toward quite massive collections in halls
so don’t search for ores and rare gem stones
just follow the Marty Pitt know how
because size and fame are the new goals
and his way is the new sacred cow

Sunday, February 19, 2012

From Participation to Purity (Philippians 1:3-11)

“…because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ… for you are all partakers with me of grace, …that your love may abound more and more, …and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ”

Paul’s prayer for the Philippians is such a rich passage. It is full of a deep understanding of the Gospel that is too often overlooked or ignored today.

When we have narrowed the Gospel message down to its simplest possible interpretation—a “get out of jail free” idea that is not really Biblical—the phrase “your participation in the gospel” sounds strange. That phrase should make us realize that the Gospel is so much more than a prayer or even a decision. We are participating in a story, an ongoing action.

The very next phrase reminds us of the other side of this gospel-coin. We are participants, but it is God who orchestrates and directs the story. We can trust His plan and direction. We can trust His grace that has been given to us and that we are sustained by as we cooperate with God in life, action and the decisions we make.

That is where the love of God comes into play. We live life guided, not by religious rules or what some human leader tells us to do, but by what the love of God would have us do. In that sense, our participation and even our completion in the Gospel is secure and up to God, but we still desire to work towards ever improving our lives and choices. We want to be pure and blameless and do not settle for the technical/positional sort of purity.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Top Ten Favorite Cities Visited

When you step down from Metropolis to a city, even one over a half million in size, you increase its desirability exponentially for it being a great place to visit. (Cities are preferable for living as well, but that would be a different list.) So many great cities present themselves for consideration, I was tempted to split this list into one for those over 500,000 and a separate one for ones between 1 and 5 hundred thousand, but that would make things too easy. (Once again, places I have lived are not included as they are impossible for me to judge accurately, but I have added a mention of some of the better ones at the bottom.)

10. Düsseldorf, Germany 

A nice spot to be if you want to hit the Rein-Ruhr area. It’s about as central as you can get, but also has a lot to offer in its own right. The city center is typically German and there is also the interesting modern area of town that is one of the more beautiful examples of that style.

9. Osorno, Chile 

Maybe more of a town than a city, Osorno doesn’t have much to offer in town. The surrounding area is amazing, however, and the Cathedral in town may be the most interesting one I have laid eyes on.

8. Basel, Switzerland 

Cosmopolitan is the world that springs to mind when one thinks of Basel. The hilly, central area of town is a maze of narrow alleys and old institutional buildings that make up a memorial of living history. The many bridges and gates around the town are truly works of art.

7. Leipzig, Germany 

The home of Bach and arguably the center of the movement that brought down the Berlin Wall, this is a beautiful, modern town that offers a window into multiple interesting moments of history.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Helping "The Help"

“The Help” is one of those movies that one sees with some trepidation. Regardless of whether it is well made or not... Whether the story is well-told or not… It is almost critique-proof. You have to like films with this sort of message or be seen as a bad person. You go into it wondering if the positive buzz is due to it being a great film or simply because people—particularly white people—are praising it because it is expected.

As it turns out it is a very well made, effective story. That being said, black groups have correctly pointed out that it is not really presenting a great picture of black culture and it in some ways lampoons and trivializes the problems it is highlighting. It is almost one of those movies that white people like simply because it makes them feel good about being not-racist.


There is an important aspect of this story that saves it, but many fans of this film may have missed it.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Modern Times and Church

“A NonModern Manifesto on Church Planting and Evangelism” (Part 1) 

The society we live in is comfortable, structured and predictable. Change is seldom a threat, and only enacted when it increases our levels of safety and provision. For those who can accept the boundaries necessary to maintain the system, it is an amazing time to be alive. However, when one falls outside the system, or circumstances make “normal” life difficult or impossible, one discovers that our modern age has narrowly redefined what it is to be human, and how easy it is to be tossed out of that special race.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"Family Plot"

Hitchcock was a practicing Catholic, but he did not overtly tell stories about religion or spirituality until his last effort. (Unless one counts his take on psychoanalysis, which was a lot like the religion of the Twentieth Century.) However, in “Family Plot” he plays with a common take on the theme: that of religion as a manipulative trickster.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Star Trek The Next Generation (Season 4a)

<--"Family" Season 4b-->

Season Four is firmly in the best period of the franchise:

Episode 3: “Brothers” 
This is often listed among the better episodes of STNG. It is one of the Data-centric stories which are always popular, and it features Lore which takes it up a notch. That being said, not a lot happens. It does show just how dangerous Data could be if he ceased to be governed by ethical standards. (Which illuminates just how dangerous Lore could be if the show ever really went there.) There are also some interesting moments between Data and his creator, but we are left with the distinct feeling that this story is not complete.

Episode 4: “Suddenly Human” 
This episode is one of the rarer, poor episodes in this middle run of the series. That is a shame because it explores the important problem of judging another culture as being good or bad based on one’s own bias. There is such a thing as universal evil—god and bad do exist—but we often expand our definition of wrong based on our preferences.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Crazy Christian Conspiracies

Conspiracy theories and theorists can be fun. They find connections in life where there are often merely tenuous similarities; or else they find sinister causal explanations where perfectly innocent obvious explanations exist. But, that is a fun way to play as long as people keep their grasp firmly on reality. The problem is that conspiracies and theorists don’t tend to do so well in that regard.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Philippians Outline

Philippians is not the sort of letter that is structured in outline form. It is more of a free flowing series of thoughts. That being said, here is the “outline” that will be followed here:

1. Greetings (1:1,2)  post
2. Paul’s Prayer for the Philippians (1:3-11)  post
3. The Gospel’s advance (1:12-18)  post  post2
4. Hope vs. Escapism (1:19-26)  post
5. A Costly Gospel! (1:27-30)  post
6. Christ’s example of humility (2:1-11)  post
7. Work out your salvation! (2:12,13)  post
8. Paul’s example of joy (2:14-18)  post
9. The Examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus (2:19-30)  post
10. Rejoice! (3:1)  post
11. Beware of false, religious teaching! (3:2-6)  post
12. Reject Religious Rubbish (3:7-11)  post
13. Press on! (3:12-16)  post
14. The pattern of heaven (3:17-21)  post
15. Stand firm! (4:1-3)  post
16. Joy and Peace in the Now (4:4-7)  post
17. Real Discernment (4:8,9)  post
18. The fellowship of Christ’s strength (4:10-14) post
19. God’s provision (4:15-20) post
20. Greetings and Benediction (4:21-23) post

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Film Questions

The following seven multiple choice questions will reveal a lot about the average film fan’s personality, generation and attitudes. As more participation is tabulated, a better picture of current Western Culture will emerge:

1. When viewing “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” You think to yourself: 
a. Alec Guinness was an amazing talent!
b. If you put a beard on that guy, he could almost be Obi-Wan Kenobi!
c. This is old and boring!
d. Comet.

2. When I want to laugh without thinking, I turn to: 
a. Jerry Lewis
b. Pauly Shore
c. Larry the Cable Guy
d. Any of the above
e. Stupid is not funny, real comedy requires thought.

Friday, February 10, 2012

"Moneyball" Preaches

“Moneyball” is a drama about fighting to change a culture, hidden in the guise of a sports movie… make that a quasi sports movie, because there is very little here that fits the genre.

Baseball is not really a sport, but it is also more than a game. It is a culture, a metaphor, a bit of a religion of sorts. As an outsider, one who was not brought up in the culture and its language and symbols, it can be an enigma. One thing is clear though, it has its own internal logic that does not always reflect reality. In “Moneyball,” that institutional insanity is exposed in the conversations amongst the scouts as they assess their prospects for the coming season. They have all sorts of intangibles—divinations—for predicting who will do well and who won’t.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

More Top Films: “The Shawshank Redemption”

Art does a pretty good job of pointing out what a messed up place the world is. Especially these days, when the culture has lost touch with any transcendence; when people have chosen to ignore any truth that goes beyond the material world. “The Shawshank Redemption” is an exceptional example of just such a story. It is a beautifully accomplished film with a well constructed plot about finding hope in a hopeless world. When one manages to get beyond the emotional response the story engenders, one is left wondering how it elicits such hope.

The mechanics of the story are simple. The prison is the world. Everyone in the world is guilty; if not of what the world accuses you of doing, then of something else. Life is punishment. Sometimes as a result of the guilt we bear; other times as a result of where we are and the evil all around us that we help create. In spite of all that guilt and evil, we are still human and that humanity drives some people to improve things—to discover and create decency. Above all else that decency is to be found in relationships and community. After a while, we become so adapted to this world that even though we are beings who long for freedom we are incapable of living as we were created to live. We fear freedom and cannot function outside of the prison.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Science as Religion, Faltering

Scientism is real. Scientism describes people and cultures that take something resembling the tool of the scientific method, and turn it into a dogmatic, tradition-bound philosophy of life. Science is no longer a process used to discover—a way of looking at and questioning reality—it is a limited explanation of one group’s beliefs imposed upon society. They purport to be anti-religion. They claim to be bound by logic against faith. However, it is simply another religion among the many; an alternative faith.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Finitude 3D

I can see up.
I can see down.
I can see deep.
I cannot see what lies behind my head.
What’s the world like out there?
My eyes show me one view.
How’s yours?
Does anyone know?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Star Trek The Next Generation (Highlight)

<--Season 3b Season 4a-->

The introduction of the Borg was a huge moment in the Star Trek franchise, both for the excitement and entertainment it brought to the story, but also for the ways these episodes elevated the “thinking” element of the “Next Generation.”

Four episodes make up an arc of sorts:

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Philippians Introduction

Philippians has been one of my favorite books of the Bible since I was very young. A common choice as a favorite, I am sure. What with all the joy and all. However, once you get into the meat of the epistle, that joy begins to look like a difficult thing to swallow.

I think in the beginning my love of Philippians had a lot to do with the background story. Acts 16 is full of some of the more fascinating events in the story of redemption. (see more here, and here.)

It is also the address for one of my first “life” verses: chapter one, verse six. I know some people who seek out a verse every year, but I have never done that. In my decades of life there have only been two or three verses that attached themselves to me at a specific point in time and have continued to be an influence on me throughout life. This was the first, but more on that later.

Imagine my surprise, then, as I prepared to take a long, slow look at Philippians here: I don’t have a single commentary of devotional volume on the book! Perhaps that is for the best…

Saturday, February 4, 2012

NonModernBlog Posts in January 2012

January was a surprising month. NonModern has grown a lot. For comparison, pageviews steadily grew by 100% from July 2010 to July 2011. Then from July 2011 to December 2011 they increased twofold yet again. In the past month, daily pageviews have been consistently double what they were in December! Here are ten of the best performing pages during that time:

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 

Dear American Church 

A Buffy Excursus: Repentance 

Charlie’s Angels 2011 

Beauty in Spite of Bleakness, Speaks 

Most Anticipated Films of 2012 

“An Idiot Abroad” 

“Sherlock” (Season 1) 

More Top Films: Big Trouble in Little China 

Star Trek The Next Generation (Season 3a)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Who's Driving This Culture?

“Drive” is the critical “darling” of 2011. Many film types loved it and were terribly upset when it did not get the Oscar nominations they thought it deserved. It ended up on many a top ten list of films for the year, including the first place on some. It will not be on the NonModern list when it finally sees the light of day.

That is not because it is a poorly made film. It is well directed, brilliantly acted, tensely paced and engaging. The opening set piece is one of the best on film for 2011. It is also not directly due to the completely deserved R rating that it earned. The over-the-top foul language of a couple characters, the brief unnecessary nudity in one scene and the shocking violence are enough for me to not recommend this film to my Christian friends who try to avoid such things; but other films containing one or more of these elements have earned my respect in the past.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Mr. Smith Goes To Washington"

There is a point near the end of 1939’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” where Smith is defeated. The media and the political machine have beaten him. Money wins and ideals lose. Of course at this point the elder senator has a crisis of conscience and confesses all. Good pulls out a victory. It’s Capra-corn at its finest. This film, more than any other, earns him that reputation. In “real life” things don’t work that way. In real life Senator Jefferson Smith loses.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Shorts 2011

Animated short films are a strange branch of the cinematic arts. They are often hard for people to see, and yet they consistently present us with some of the most interesting and creative storytelling. With the internet and streaming options available these days, people should be encouraged to seek out more of this art form. Three of this year’s crop of Academy Award nominees are currently available to see for free. (“A Morning Stroll” is not currently free. “La Luna,” Pixar’s entry, has not been released yet. The “real” 2011 Pixar short failed to measure up to their standards—their feature failed in the same way—so apparently they have been allowed to submit the short that will be attached to “Brave” because it was shown at a festival in 2011.)
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